Opposition continues to mount in the counties surrounding Great Smoky Mountains National Park to backcountry fees the park instituted earlier this year.
Earlier this week the Knox County (Tennessee) Commission voted to follow Bradley and Blount counties in Tennessee and Swain County in North Carolina in condemning and calling for a repeal of the park's backcountry fee.
The backcountry fee of $4 per night per person, with a $20 per person cap per trip, took effect February 13. It is intended by park officials to help streamline and improve the backcountry permitting process and heighten the presence of rangers in the backcountry.
Pinched by an inadequate budget and unable to charge an entrance fee for any of the roughly 9 million yearly visitors, park officials see no way of improving visitor services and protecting backcountry resources without charging users who spend the night in the woods.
Great Smoky Mountains officials are aware of the counties' opposition, but have no plans in the near-term to do away with the fee system.
"We are aware of the county actions and understand the concerns expressed regarding the park’s new backcountry management program. We remain confident that we have implemented a backcountry program that has greatly improved service for our backcountry users including backcountry information office staff and a 24-7 online reservations system," said Dana Soehn, a spokeswoman for the park.
"As the program has been in operation for only about six weeks, we will continue to monitor its effectiveness and review the feedback we receive from the public and users of the new system."